Editor’s note: This weekly update from the government relations office at the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) provides the latest on what’s happening in Washington and how AACC is advancing policies to support community colleges and students. Send questions, feedback and more to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today, the Department of Education (ED) will conclude its first table in this round of negotiated rulemaking sessions on Title IV program integrity and quality issues, including accreditation, state authorization, distance education, return of Title IV funds (R2T4), cash management, and TRIO eligibility. The next two sessions will take place on February 5-8 and March 4-7.
The topics for discussion are of great consequence for community colleges. AACC’s Alexis Gravely and David Baime have more information on the issue papers and proposed changes in the Community College Daily.
Based on this week’s meetings, there is ample opportunity for negotiators to work together to improve and simplify processes for colleges and students, particularly around changes to R2T4. However, the first session also uncovered key areas of disagreements between negotiators. This includes the proposal to rewrite cash management regulations in a way that restricts colleges’ ability to include the cost of textbooks and supplies in tuition and fees, which is a key component of “inclusive access” programs utilized by many community colleges. Negotiators also shared diverging views on proposed changes to the regulation of distance education programs, state authorization issues around reciprocity agreements, new requirements for accreditors to conduct site visits for additional locations and new standards for who can serve as a “public member” on an accreditation review board. At this stage, it is unclear if negotiators will be able to reach consensus on these four papers.
AACC is highly engaged in this rulemaking and with the negotiators representing community colleges, and we will continue to update members in the coming months.
“soft launch” period, wherein users encountered programming bugs, scheduled maintenance, unplanned outages, and “waiting rooms,” ED announced on Monday that the site is now accessible to applicants 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Despite limited access during the form’s initial launch, ED said that more than one million students were able to complete the form from December 30 to January 8. They highlighted that while the average student can expect to spend one hour filling out the application, some students are able to complete the form in as little as 10 minutes. This is in part due to the reduction in the overall number of questions as well as the use of “skip logic” that automatically eliminates questions that are irrelevant to the students based on their prior answers. Some students can complete their FAFSA in as few as 18 questions depending on their circumstances. The faster completion time is also a result of the new direct importation of tax data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which eliminates a key administrative burden for applicants and their families.
While the soft launch is officially over for students and families filling out the FAFSA, colleges should still expect at least a month-long delay in the processing of Institutional Student Information Records (ISIRs). It is also not yet known how the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) will address an error to the inflation adjustment for the Student Aid Index’s income protection allowance, which could cause additional processing delays.
AACC is carefully monitoring the rollout of the new FAFSA and will continue to update its member colleges on new developments.